Health officials say about 30 children in Saline County have elevated levels of lead in their blood.
Jason Tiller, director of the Saline County Health Department, says more cases could be discovered as public awareness of the health threat grows.
Tiller says the problem surfaced after several families had their children’s blood tested for lead at their family doctor’s office and at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. According to Tiller, no patterns have been revealed so far to suggest how the children might have been exposed to the lead.
Lead was added to most paint until the practice was banned in 1978. As a result, lead paint in older homes is the most common source of lead exposure, but there are many others, including lead in plumbing, some imported candy and dust.
For almost 40 years, lead acid batteries have been produced at a large manufacturing plant on the south side of Salina. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Emissions Inventory, the Exide Technologies plant emitted almost 3,000 pounds of lead into the air in 2011. That’s the most recent year lead emissions were listed in the report.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has begun an investigation of how the children were exposed. KDHE spokesman Ashton Rucker says it will be “an expansive investigation.”
“KDHE is looking into a variety of possible scenarios and causes that could lead to lead exposure and elevated blood lead levels. Once the investigation has been concluded, the agency will have a clearer idea regarding the source(s) linked to elevated blood lead levels,” Rucker said in an email.
KDHE has scheduled a public information session about the investigation at 6:30 p.m. June 21 at the Salina Community Theatre.
Anyone with more than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood is considered at risk. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no safe level of lead in the blood of children.
Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body. Even at low levels, it affects IQ, academic performance and the ability to pay attention. The CDC says there are often no obvious symptoms, and there is no way to correct lead’s health effects.
Bryan Thompson is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.